Lake Tilicho: A bird watching trek

Tilicho lake is one of the highest lakes in the World, situated at 4900 meters. Located in Manang, it falls under the famous Annapurna Circuit trek, though few people just do the circuit without the Lake, but the circuit isn’t complete without the Tilicho Trek. Tilicho lake has to be the most amazing part of the Circuit. I had heard about the lake a lot, that its amazingly beautiful, but as I stood there, gazing at the lake I learned that one had to be there to believe in its beauty.

I had been planning the Circuit trek for a long time, but I was stuck with University and classes, Finally as soon as the classes were over I decided to go on a trek of  the famous Annapurna Circuit. I was looking forward to trekking up to Tilicho and cross the Thorang La Pass, but more over I was excited about the diversity of Birds, that I was about see. I had done bird watching trek in lots of places around Nepal and I knew one of the best destination for bird watching was the ACAP circuit. I had a bet with a friend that I’d not return from the trek until I cross 100 or more bird species.

The journey started at Bus park where I took microbus to Lamjung, the gateway to Manang. Though the destination is not that far, the usual habits of Nepali’s to start buying vegetables and fruits after the get into the microbus delayed the micro a lot. I reached Lamjung at 1 pm, then took a Jeep from Lamjung to Chyaamche. The road was a bit crazier than I expected, I’m glad that I reached there without the bus ending up in Marsyangdi river. The sun was about to set, when I reached Chyaamche, found a decent hotel and rested there for the night.

The next day I got up early in the morning and started my journey to Manang, after walking for about 1 hour your reach border point of Lamjung and Manang, a beautiful place called taal, but just before reaching Manang, there was the wildest road I’ve seen, actually it was a road it was just a pile of big landslide which was supposed to be a road. I did manage to cross the landslide without falling down in to river. The first hours of trek was kind of boring for me, as I didn’t get to see any birds, may be because it was too early. But right when I crossed the point there two districts meet, I saw a Himalayan bulbul perched up on a tree. After that they just kept coming one after another, the most common of them in the Taal area  being the Large Billed Crow, Hoope and Wagtails. The most interesting thing about Hoope was, I’ve seen the same species as low as 55 meters and I saw the Hoope as high as 4200 meters on the way to Tilicho. The day passed so fast with my note book getting plenty of birds, crossing over 30 species in the first day, then I knew I was going to win the bet. I knew I would see more species in the days to come. The next day, I again started the day early, did see lots of birds but with high repetition from the day before, but it was awesome nonetheless. The day ended in the headquarters of Manang, Chaame. Chaame is pretty quiet and peaceful for a headquarter. That day I just had about 7 new birds, it was quite disappointing.

The same thing happened the next morning, until I reached the place called Dhikurpokhari, which turned out to be a mini bird paradise. I just stayed there for hours, not only is it peaceful but it’s just one of best place in the circuit for me, not lodging wise though, it was pretty expensive. But there’s a high diversity of birds there. But even then my hopes of crossing 100 birds were getting fainter and fainter day by day. I decided to walk through the evening and reach Pisang and stay there for the night. Pisang, specially upper Pisang is beautiful, decorated with Traditional houses and amazing view of the Annapurna ranges. The next morning I walked up the monastery in the top of the hill and did find huge diversity of birds, about 28 different birds just in one place, most of them repetition and most of them new. But I was happy with the finding, I looked around the valley for some time and then started walking up to the new destination, the road to Manang, and I did manage to find about 12 new species in between Pisang and Manang. The thing I loved most about that day’s trek was the road, it’s a flat road up to Manang, well almost flat. Crossing through, Humde, Mungji, Brakha- one of the most amazing place, with the old traditional houses.

I had lunch in Manang, went to see the Gangapurna glacier, but then realized I could make it up to Shreekharka, reducing the number of days, then instead of going to Gangapurna I started to walk towards Shreekharka. It was pitch dark when I reached Shreekharka but when I woke up the next morning and looked out of the window I was awestruck. The view was great, and so were the high altitude birds! As I started walking up to the Tilicho lake, I found more and more new birds, high altitude birds.  Finches , Snow Pigeon, Chukars, Choughs. Did manage to see Himalayan Griffon and Golden Eagle! It was awesome as the Vulture just flew below me. And the most adventurous part of the Tilicho trek is the Landslide, you have to pass through an area with high vulnerability to landslide which takes about 20-30 minutes depending upon how scared you are!

After landslide you reach Tilicho Base camp, and most people stay at the base camp and do the trek next day but I decided to reach Tilicho and drop down to Shreekharka the same day. I was pretty tough but I made it, and since I had been walking from Shreekhara early in the morning, when I reached the base camp, I realized that the most painful hike of the day was yet come, the one from Base camp to the Lake.  It’s not that bad but it did torture me a lot since I tried to do the tilicho trek from Shreekharka and back to Shreekharka in one day. I was depleted, hungry and without a single drop of water, but as I saw the lake from distance, I forgot everything, because it absolutely breathtaking and really hard to explain how it is, because it can’t be, you have to be there to believe it.

It was nothing like I imagined, I always thought it was just a lake below the mountains, but the color of the lake and the horizon where it meets the sky makes an illusion as if the lake and the blue sky are one. I then went down to the lake and just drop my head inside the excruciatingly cold water and drank the water out of the lake instead of filling up my bottle. I just had to do that! The good thing was I did see an alpine accentor in the lake! Nothing else! Luckily the tea shop there open that day, so I had a bowl of noodles and few cups of tea and the returned back, as I had to rush to get to Shreekharka. I reached Shreekharka at around 6:30, tired as one can ever be but elated at the same time! The next day I had decided to reach Yak Kharka but I ended up reaching Thorang Phedi, could have made it up to the Thorang Base camp but I wanted to see the diversity of birds around Phedi, because I knew I’d not get more birds in that altitude, and that turned out to be right, I found about 6 species in Thorang Phedi and found just an alpine accentor and Himalayan Snowcock in Thorang Base camp. The hike up to Thorang Base camp was actually easier than I expected and very easy compared to Shreekharka- Tilicho-Shreekharkha trek.

On my way to Thorang I saw a Tibetan Snowcock and that was it for the Manang part. Finally I reached Thorang La pass and I didn’t really see any birds up there but as soon as I started to get down to the Mustang part, after a drop of around 800 meters in altitude I started seeing plenty of birds. The only new one was a Raven which I didn’t see at all in the Manang part, I saw one in Mustang. There were plenty of birds on the way before I reached Muktinath. Stayed at the Bob Marley hotel and then next morning walked upto Jomsom, the next morning I went up to Ghasa, with plenty of birds in my note book, and the took a bus to Beni, and Pokhara, completing the Circuit. It was one of the most amazing treks Ive ever done, and as soon as I reached Pokhara, I counted the number of birds and I wasn’t sure and confident that I crossed 100 birds but I had 117 birds in the list!! A job well done! And I highly recommend all of you who love trekking and specially bird watching to do the Circuit trek! It pays of very well. And Manang is one of the most beautiful places and the people there are amazingly nice!

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Mr Zoologist

I am a Zoologist!

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